Design Your Own Major

Creative, independent, and interdisciplinary-focused Swarthmore students may design their own special major. In some areas, such as astrophysics, biochemistry, chemical physics, language and linguistics, and neuroscience, there are already curricula in place, developed by previous students and supported by the faculty. In other cases, students, working with their faculty mentors, take the initiative to define their own distinct academic program. Examples of individualized programs of study include majors in health and social policy, urban studies, and technology and the human experience. 

Like traditional majors, special majors typically require at least 10, and no more than 12, courses that, when considered holistically, provide the student with a rich, cohesive, and comprehensive understanding of his or her chosen topic. To demonstrate their mastery of the topics, all majors—including special majors—must fulfill a comprehensive requirement to graduate. This requirement may be fulfilled by a thesis, comprehensive examination, or other project approved by the student's faculty adviser.

Max Kaye
Max Kaye is a sophomore who designed a major in behavioral economics

Max Kaye recently declared his special major, which combines psychology and economics. Behavioral economics is an area Kaye is interested in, especially as he intends to enter the field of international business and law following his graduation from Swarthmore. For Kaye, the hardest aspect of pursuing a special major is not the process of meeting with respective departments but deciding what classes to integrate into his major.

"I chose this major because I wanted to integrate what I learn about human decision making from two different disciplines of study.

I love all of the classes that fit in with this special major, and it feels great knowing that I will be interested in every class I am taking for the rest of my undergraduate education.

Overall, the process of choosing the special major and deciding what classes to take by figuring out why I chose every particular class has helped me set more distinct goals of what I want to do when I graduate from Swarthmore."

Majandra Rodriguez
Majandra Rodriguez is a senior who designed a major in sustainable development studies

Majandra is interested in the topic of development and as an international student from Peru, she would like to engage with social, political and economic issues there after graduating from Swarthmore.  She set about to design her own major after researching development studies programs at other schools, which seemed to integrate the departments of sociology and anthropology, political science, economics, environmental studies and education.

"Anyone interested in a special major should spend time researching potentially relevant classes and special major and graduation requirements before approaching faculty and administration about it. They need to see that you have a solid plan and that you're invested in the special major. If you are set in your plans and meet with the necessary faculty and administration, you can definitely do it. I even studied abroad for one year and got several of the courses I took abroad to be counted towards my major.

My special major has allowed me to take a diversity of classes that I maybe wouldn't have been able to otherwise, and also to have taken classes that focus on a set of issues that are sometimes not as fully delved into or covered by one discipline or one department at Swarthmore."

The Registrar's Office has information about the development of and application process for special majors.